Friday, January 2, 2009

Chicken-palooza

Funder asked to hear about the chickens, so I decided it was time to out myself as a total chicken freak. I love the chickens! But first, some information...

Chickens make a lot of sense on a small farm. They contribute meat and eggs, eat pests such as ticks and flies, and produce and spread manure all by themselves. They are also pretty social and entertaining and provide a nice "farm-like" ambiance. Compared to the horses, the chickens take very little effort, five minutes a day to provide clean water, check food levels, look for (non-existent) eggs, check them over for pecking or illness. I clean the coop twice a week, removing frozen, uneaten treats, scooping the area underneath the roosts and fluffing up the rest of the bedding. Very low maintenance animals.

Currently, we have a small flock of ten layer pullets (young hens). They are of laying age, but due to the amount of daylight in the winter, the move to the farm, and other distractions, they have yet to start laying. Any day now... :) At least two hens are displaying "breeding" behavior (the rooster squat) and their combs are big and bright red so they are mature enough to start laying.

I do not have a rooster at this time. I am still debating if I want to deal with the hassle. Hens will lay quite well without a rooster, but the eggs will not be fertile, obviously. For cooking, fertility makes no difference in the egg. The benefits of having a rooster are that they are beautiful, protect the hens, fertilize eggs which make hatching at home possible. The cons against roosters are that they are noisy, they can harass the hens with over mating, they can become aggressive, they eat food and don't lay eggs. :)

Chickens need their greens. I hang a head of cabbage on the wall and they peck at it, providing greens and entertainment for cooped up birds. In this picture are the Rhode Island Reds, Black Australorps and the Gold Sex Link is peaking in at bottom left.


I purchased these ten hens from a local lady who ordered them from an online hatchery and raised them until about five months. I have six Rhode Island Reds, three Australorps, and one Gold Sex Link. They are all good laying breeds. I feed them organic layer pellets (16% protein), they get a scratch mix (cracked corn, sunflower seeds, and flax seeds) as a treat a couple times a day. In the winter, they need all the calories they can get. Plus, they eat table scraps. So far they have really enjoyed butternut squash risotto and any type of pork the best.


The Coop. Alert: Handsome horse in the background.

Chicken-sized porch. Allows outside time out of the snow.

The hens live in an old playhouse which was not in use by the previous occupants. The coop is 70 square feet and has a little wrap-around covered porch which is ideal because it allows the birds to sit outside, but not have to wade in snow. If I were to build a coop from scratch, I would definitely add this feature. To convert it to a coop, we added two layers of R3.3 foam insulation board and covered that with white bathroom board which is easy to clean and peck proof. Chickens will peck at foam insulation and shred it (ask me how I know this). We added weather stripping around the door and windows and added chicken furniture, such as a roost and nest boxes. The coop is insulated, but not heated and we have a thermometer in the coop which shows that when closed up, it stays about 8-10 degrees warmer than outside. And, most importantly, it is draft free.


The Roost. The pallet is held in place by the board framing it on the top right.

Dust Bath. An old horse feed pan is filled with fireplace ashes to provide a dust bath for the hens when they can't go outside due to weather.


For a roost, we used an old pallet and broke out every other board and leaned it against the wall. The older hens roost on the top and the younger hens roost in the middle. For nest boxes, we use 5 gallon buckets and attached them to an old cabinet. Now the hens can lay in the cabinet, which is at ground level, or use the perch to enter the buckets. Once they start laying and establish a system, we may change the nesting arrangement to better suit what they like.

Nesting Buckets. The round objects are, sadly, not eggs but golf balls to "show" then hens where to lay. Hens can lay in buckets or in the compartments on the ground framed by an old cabinet turned on its side. An old lobster shell is picked clean, bottom right.

A heated dog water dish provides ice free water for the hens. It must be cleaned out and refilled daily. It's a perfect size for mature birds but would be a drowning hazard for chicks.


So far, the hens have been relatively healthy. Of the ten, only one has needed any care for an impacted crop and we brought her inside and fixed her up in about three days. They are fun, friendly, and fascinating to watch.

I have big chicken plans for the future since they are the "easiest" and most efficient form of protein you can raise on a small farm. I intend to expand my layer flock to 20 which will produce about 16 eggs a day. At this time, I think I am going to order 15 Blue Laced Red Wyandotte chicks (picture is not mine, all rights reserved) in the spring and even though I will order pullets, I will likely get at least one male. If he is non-aggressive, I will keep him to enhance my layer stock. If I order 15, I have a good chance of raising ten quality hens. Wyandottes are cold hardy, and broad solid birds which lay a big, round egg. I am also looking into Barnevelders (picture is not mine, blah blah blah) but they are not as good layers. I still have much research to do.

I am also researching buying meat birds in the spring to use in a moveable chicken pen to fertilize my garden plot and then harvesting them at 10 weeks for eating throughout the year. Ten weeks and a little effort and we will eat clean chicken for a year. It's a good deal, I just need to finalize the plan.

The layer flock will provide enough eggs for the two humans and four dogs. Since I feed my dogs a raw diet, I am always looking for cheap protein. Out of necessity, I buy them a lot of disgusting poultry to eat because it is so cheap. I am researching replacing half of their poultry meals with eggs and seeing if there are any health issues. I am investigating the biotin deficiency problems now and trying to find real numbers on how many eggs consumed are required to have a deficiency.

I am by no means a chicken expert, but if there are any remaining questions about chickens or their role on a small farm, feel free to ask in the comments and I will do my best to answer them.

10 comments:

sylvia said...

NOOOO!!!!

don't.get.a.rooster. DON'T DO IT!!

great set up you have...they're spoiled hens. :)

i hope they start producing for you soon.

Daun said...

Sylvia! Ha! Care to elaborate on the Great Rooster Debate?

:)

Funder said...

Yay chickens!

We had chickens when I was a kid. Not "big chickens" but bantams. They were mostly wild. We'd feed them stale white bread and cracked corn sometimes, but mainly they fended for themselves and ate what they could find - bugs, plants, fleas and ticks. (I still cannot eat white sandwich bread, it's clearly labeled in my head as "only fit for chickens to eat.")

We had nest boxes all over the place and they laid at least some eggs probably 9 months a year. No storebought egg has ever been that good. I don't think we ever had more than 30 or 35, after a good summer, and the coldest winter left us with 8 at the beginning of spring.

Anyway, I love chickens. One day I'll have a flock again! And I know what you mean about how icky storebought chicken meat looks. I know even Tyson's is better than kibble, but... ugh.

My ironic word verification is "inediba."

sylvia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sylvia said...

i really can't debate! it's not one of my strong qualities! ;)

i have personal issues with roosters. i think i have mentioned before i grew up on a dairy farm? we had shitloads of chickens and roosters. they crow incessantly. whoever said at sunrise only, needs to be shot.

living on the farm with the feathered fowl didn't bother me. it was after, as an adult, when the husband, one kid, (at the time) and i moved to the caribbean that it *tramuatized* me!

we lived in a house with shutters only. we had a mama hen that was ALWAYS leading around chicks. chicks turn to roosters, roosters breed more....we could not sound proof our house. they would literally crow in our window at all hours of the day and night.

trust.

i kept a journal of emails i sent home while we lived there...they were such a huge part of our everyday life, that people still laugh when they ask me about roosters! it's a tiny bit funny now. *very tiny* but in the moment...not so much. mostly, i hate them for waking my oldest child minutes after getting him to sleep! he was two months old at the time...and a terror to get to sleep! GAAAH!!!!

anyhow...you're prolly laughing at me and that's okay. LOL!!

i'm guessing you're not putting a rooster right next to your bedroom window!

fresh eggs are yummy...and if you get a double yoke layer that would be cool!

we had some that laid green/blue eggs.

when we slaugtered at the end of summer...(the meat birds, obvioiusly) that was when i made sure to have other plans. fresh chicken was good, though...and at least you knew what went into it, and where it came from.

sorry this was so long. i have tried to repress those months and months of rooster hell.

LOL!!!

Joan said...

Have loved your "eventing Percheron" stories and now found your farming blog. My husband and I are considering moving to New Hampshire. Since we have Norwegian Fjords and love to raise much of our own food, you have lots of great encouragement on your blog spaces for me! Thanks.

Daun said...

Slyvia,
Noted. That sounds like Rooster hell. If I keep a rooster, it will have to be a very nice, non-irritating bird. Trust me on that one. Almost everyone else I have talked says to get one, counteracting my subtle opposition.

Joan,
Welcome! Feel free to move near me so we can have a drafty-grow-your-own-food support network. We all know I need one!! :)

sylvia said...

Dear gawd! My spelling errors!
Heehee...a friendly rooster!!
Have a great weekend!

Joan said...

Daun,
And I would need to know where to find a dressage trainer that longs to work with Fjords! Part of that support network function:)

A woman who lives near me bought one of those gorgeous black dressage Percherons - and I love to watch him.

For now, consider me a remote member of the support network (Western Washington....)

Have a great winter.

dp said...

Haha. Bobbing for cabbages.